Julia Warr didn’t realise that an ordinary flight from London would lead to the beginning of an important friendship, and the beautiful short documentary, ‘My Friend Maia’. 

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I met Maia by chance when we were both upgraded on a flight from London to New York[/inlinetweet]. I think we drank wine. She was 93. I was 52.

She was travelling alone in Georgia, but war had broken out in South Ossetia, so she had been diverted to London. She thought nothing of it, but I was fascinated by her. She instantly invited me to her apartment to learn her exercises (the Helles Method), which she had learned from her mother. She was a dancer—my son was too—and together we went to see him perform in Swan Lake at the Lincoln Centre. Our friendship went from there; cinema, exercise, orchestra, exercise….and always dance.

If our film captures the beauty of aging, my job is done

Her 95th birthday was coming up when she invited me to her home on Fire Island. My husband and I fixed her pathway. The next time I went, I  was alone, and I took a low format camera and a tripod.  I had not made a film in years. I wanted to make a video of Maia doing her exercises, but it evolved into a film which was more a window onto her life, I think. I decided not to shoot HD but on an old standard 4:3 PAL camera. I have a lack of interest in lenses and exposures, I must admit, so I shoot in natural light. I have upgraded to a Canon rebel since then.

When I make documentaries, I like to have control, but I want (or rather, need) the freedom to fail. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]I am a mover, and the camera is an extension of my moving body. I think of it as my eyes[/inlinetweet]. I want to show you what I see. I prefer to shoot and edit my own material in natural light. For dance films like this, I take my influences from video clips like ‘Happy’, by Pharrell Williams, from art filmmakers like John Smith and Agnes Varda, from watching ballet from high balconies, from noticing groups of kids gathered at sunset on a street corner as if they were being directed in a movie. I react to what I am seeing here and now and rely on that built-up store of influences to guide my intuition when I start shooting.

I’m fundamentally interested in making films with people who are actively involved with what they do, even if it’s reading books or weeding. I have been asked to make retrospectives, but I’m not interested. I’d rather make a film about the milkman’s wife. My next film is about a 19year-old dancer who is caught between anger at the ballet (for taking away so many hours of her life in practice) and her wish to continue performing.

When I make documentaries, I like to have control

My Friend Maia has received an unending amount of support. I’m still staggered by it. The documentary has been shared well over two million times with hundreds of comments, often from other women, who found that it helped them to feel much better about growing older. I think we have that strong support because there aren’t many similar films out there. I exist on the fringes of the business, as I am a painter, performer, and a mother, too. Putting yourself out there, getting noticed—it takes persistent dedication. I am the first person to admit I could do more. We all can.

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in film, and sadly, these stories don’t get told as often as they should. I think the Women Over 50 Film Festival, as well as serving the underrepresented, is predominantly about celebrating talent. Maia expresses a natural, honest, and evolved way of living. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]If our film captures the beauty of aging, my job is done[/inlinetweet], because that is what I intuitively set out to do.

The Women Over 50 Film Festival celebrates the work of women over 50 in front of, and behind, the camera. Got a short film you think would suit? Applications close July 31.

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